RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - This Hurricane Season may currently be on track based on the number of named systems to-date (we've had seven: Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand and currently Gabrielle). But we're missing the hurricanes.
As of this posting, there have been no hurricanes this season. And the climatological "peak" of the season, when storm systems are most-frequent, is upon us.
But activity tends to remain up through late October. Superstorm Sandy last year is a perfect example of a "later-season" storm with tremendous impact.
So if our activity is on track this year with the typical six named cyclones by early September, why are we behind on our hurricane count?
Dry air (probably linked to the Saharan Air Layer, a hot, dry, dusty air-mass that has been blowing regularly off of northwest Africa so far this season) is likely responsible for storms having trouble developing. Remember, hurricanes need a warm, humid air-mass to feed on.
The Hurricane and Storm Sentinel Mission (HS3) based at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility right now is investigating the Saharan Air Layer this season to figure out what impact it's having on the tropical environment.
In addition, westerly winds aloft have disrupted storm organization in the Atlantic Basin. This means when a cyclone is able to tap into fuel and get convection going enough to earn a name, it gets sheared apart before it can intensify to hurricane strength.
So how rare is a season like this year's? From what we know since the satellite era (the 1960s), only five other years have had to wait until September for the first hurricane of the season:
2002: September 11 (Gustav)
1984: September 10 (Diana)
2001: September 9 (Erin)
1967: September 3 (Arlene)
1988: September 2 (Debby)
Before the satellite era, hurricane records are incomplete. But NOAA meteorologist Dennis Feltgen says approximately 20 years since 1851 had to wait until September for the first hurricane to form.
We're far from the end of the tropical cyclone season, and ocean temperatures remain favorably warm for storm development. Prepare now for the rest of this season!